August 3, 2008

The Sandwich Manifesto.

We have gone too long and too far with the evolving meaning of the sandwich. It is time to return to the original intent. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, may not have been the first person to want his food inside 2 slices of bread, but the thing is certainly named after him, and we know his specific purpose: He didn't want to have to stop what he was doing and he didn't want to get any sloppy meat grease on his playing cards or his books and papers. (There's some dispute about whether he was absorbed in gambling or serious professional work.)

But the original intent of the sandwich is clear: To take messy food and make it neat and convenient. You want a substantial meal, but you want to have it on a plate over to the side, so you can continue doing something else. You want to be able to reach over without paying attention, pick it up in one hand, and easily take a bite and put it down again. You shouldn't have to use your fingers to poke stray pieces in before you pick it up. No sauce should drip out. You shouldn't have to use both hands and lean over the plate and expect your bite to eject miscellaneous items from the other side of the bread. You hands should remain clean.

Sandwich makers, quit trying to impress me with piles of slippery ingredients uncontrolled by inadequate bread. The bread must be in charge of the filling. Nothing should be falling out. I don't want to struggle with these slovenly concoctions anymore. I don't want the job of reassembling what you have assembled. I want to sit here and type on my laptop keyboard, use my mouse, and eat a meal at the same time without even thinking about grease and drips. This desire traces back through the whole noble tradition of Sandwich, which you need to respect and value.

In the name of the fourth Earl of Sandwich, return to the original intent.

ADDED: "It's a complete catastrophe!" [UPDATE: That last quote went with a video that is, unfortunately, no longer available. I don't know what it refers to.]


David Walser said...

Yes! With rare exceptions such as a "hot roast beef sandwich*", anything called a sandwich should be easy to pick up and eat without making a mess. If you need a knife and fork to eat it, it's not a real sandwich.

*A hot roast beef sandwich is not a sandwich at all. It's two slices of white bread with mashed potatoes, roast beef, and gravy served on top of the bread. Good comfort food, but it's not a sandwich.

knox said...

LOL! brilliant.

I'm thinking of fast food restaurants, and McDonald's scores pretty well on the messiness scale. (except for the Big Mac) They eschew vegetables and their condiments are minimal and tidy. You pretty much only risk a pickle sliding out. Burger King is the worst, the Whopper is unbelievably slimy and gross.

rhhardin said...

You'll find, when they run out of meat refills at the school cafeteria, that white bread with butter, mashed potatoes and gravy is an even better sandwich than it was with the meat.

Zachary Sire said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

And I guess we can all agree that this Carl's Jr. sandwich would definitely NOT fall under Ann's definition of a proper sandwich.

Ron said...

Clearly, this post falls under the Commerce clause; that is to say, they won't get any more of your commerce until they make a less sloppy sandwich!

Jim Hu said...

Althouse embraces original intent sandwichprudence?!

I'm more of a "living menu responding to evolving community standards" theory myself.

Trooper York said...
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ricpic said...

The chains like Quiznos, and the delis make them overstuffed for one reason: most customers feel shortchanged by a sandwich that isn't bulging.

Trooper York said...
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Anonymous said...

AMEN! Once, many moons ago, I was a "certified sandwhich artist". I don't say that to brag. I'm just stating the facts. When you came into MY Subway, you knew you were in the presence of greatness...

During my tenure there, I noticed a disturbing trend towards things like "low-fat" and "vegetables". Enough with this! A man should be allowed to create a feast of pastrami, salami, ham, bacon, and meatballs without worrying about inconsequentials like...lettuce. I mean really, who did those customers think they were, requesting tomatos in the middle of my performance art?? It got so bad I was forced to turn in my hat.

Christy said...

I thought that was why the Fresh Prince of Rap invented the neatly contained wrap.

rcocean said...

The worst sandwich of all is the "open turkey sandwich". Bread topped by hot turkey and gravy on a plate. Prevalent in my youth, these monstrous "sandwiches" have disappeared - thank goodness.

Trooper York said...
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Susan said...

My pet sandwich peeve: having all the meat piled up in the middle of the sandwich. Meat and other sandwich ingredients should be distributed equally all over the bread. Stuff should not hang out over the edge. The sandwich should be cut into quarters diagonally. And despite what others may say, I am not an anal retentive sandwich maker.

Ralph L said...

Susan, that's good to hear. No one wants a tossed salad sandwich.

Nichevo said...

As the author Lawrence Sanders wrote in his (iirc) The Second Deadly Sin, there are two kinds of sandwiches, wet and dry, or as some say, one- or two-handed. You just have to decide which world you want to live in, that's all. And categories diverge: sometimes a burger means a slider, sometimes it means a 10 oz black-and-blue five-napkin burger.

I disagree that a Whopper is nasty, I like it better than a Quarter Pounder (though not as much as the new Angus) and I do value real salad on it. But it is not a sandwich to eat while driving. McD's definitely has the manageability edge.

That said, I always end up at McD's because the BK fries are nasty. I ordered fries, I did not order food-science-project potatoes-dipped-in-cornstarch.

Fry potatoes in hot oil and be done with it! Actually, bring back tallow and such. The old fries had more flavor. Somehow the clown knows his stuff.

Actually Nathan's has the best fries anywhere, for me. But they should be the fresh cut fries...but I digress.

Yes they are sandwiches, they are known as open-face sandwiches. Free your minds, people! Anything you can put mustard on is a sandwich.

Mmmm, mustard...


oh yes, Subway makes me very angry with their scrimping servings of meat. Never mind the toppings, I know what everything costs, and they are not skimping on the meat because they're Jains or Buddhists, they do so because that makes the sandwich cheaper.

Even double meat is a damned cheat. If you can't put 1/4-1/2 lb of meat on it don't call it a sandwich, call it a half sandwich or a canape or something. You probably have to spend ten bucks at Subway to get a decent roast beef sandwich, and then it will be gray meat. For five bucks you should get a decent sandwich at a deli.

Of course many of you live where there is lousy water hence lousy bread - I live in New York, so the bread here is good. Italian bread from Parisi's, baguettes from Viet restaurants, White Mountain bread or corn rye from Stork's...mmmm.


Oh yes, and as we all know from The Simpsons, special sauce is mayo left out in the sun. It is not clangers.

Don't mess with the Count! Unless you want your picture on a sandwich wrapper.

...Am I hungry? Why do you ask?

PS Sir Archy, allow me to say with Charles Dickens that "Please, sir, I want some more!"

John Stodder said...

Fed my family Subway last night. Wish I hadn't.

Trooper York said...
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Ann Althouse said...

There's no way one of the best 10 sandwiches is liverwurst.

PunditJoe said...

Thank you! I honestly don't know who thinks it is fun to have messy sandwiches. If it is messy, I won't eat it at a restaurant. (with the possible exception of bbq ribs.) heh heh

Chip Ahoy said...

How true. All of it. I'm in 100% of agreement.

Once my mum sent me off to school with a sandwich made of white bread smeared with mayonnaise and wedges of orange colored cheese cut carelessly with a wire cheese cutter so they squished out between the slices of bread and fell in a slimy mess on my lap. It was in that moment that I realized my own mum didn't really love me. I feel like crying all over again just remembering it. I decided to do whatever it took to change that and prevent it from ever happening to other children, helpless victims of careless mums.

Gyros on pita with Tzatziki has got to be the single most brilliant sandwich ever invented. All contained in a tidy pocket bread disk. Pan fried flat bread is incredibly easy to make. If you thoroughly smash the dough with a large pot, leaven it slightly, then fry it, you get pita. Or you can just buy it, but it won't be as good.

At any rate, the quality of bread is central to the success of a sandwich. Plain white bread must never be considered. If your partner makes sandwiches with white bread, divorce them immediately. Whenever I eat a hamburger prepared outside my own home, nearly never, I think, "Damn, this would be so much better on my own bread." The good earl never saw the likes of Wonder(TM) bread. If he did, he'd say, "Bitch! Take this back and start over."

Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats hand-made mayonnaise. It's a whole 'nuther ballgame, a magnitude of order above grocery store brands. I make it regularly with additional mustard because I always end up mixing the two anyway. I like to use partial olive oil and add garlic (aioli), and ginger root, because I like it. It's fun to make too. Mayo in one minute, YouTube.

Caution: add oil exceedingly slowly at first or it won't magically thicken.

After those first two essentials, great bread and fantastic sauce, nearly anything will do, fresh vegetables, fish, shell fish, poultry, ham, or red meat, the entire world of cheeses, even *gasp* prepared sandwich meats. Anything but iguana. And insects. Don't use those.

I strongly recommend fresh herbs. An AeroGarden is perfect for this.

That is all I have to say on the subject of sandwiches. Except have a good beverage to wash it all down.

Trooper York said...
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Ron said...


knox said...

After those first two essentials, great bread and fantastic sauce

Alas, "great bread" not easy to find in Knoxville TN. I have to make my own, also not fun to do in Knoxville TN -- in the summer. In the winter, no probs.

By the way, anyone who's interested in baking, please try no-knead bread, it's so easy, and just about the best basic, all-purpose bread you've ever had. I promise. Link

(ever since making it, I have become a no-knead-bread evangelist. I spent about 6 months of my life at one point in time trying to make great homemade bread -- and this is it.)

Meade said...


AllenS said...
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AllenS said...

My all time favorite is the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. It don't get no better than a BLT.

rcocean said...

Back in my day, we didn't have all these fancy meats and breads. We got Meyer's Bologna on Wonder Bread with Mayo. And we liked it.

And we didn't have video games. We just sat around and watched a potato bake.

Anonymous said...


I stopped at the Delta diner in Delta, WI (Bayfield for all you Badgers in the crowd) yesterday. Wonderful, wonderful small diner, and original diner refurbished and shipped to rural nothern Wisconsin.

I had a BLTP. A perfect bacon, lettuce and tomatoe sandwich on locally baked bread. Neuske's bacon, natch. The 'P' is a fillet of freshly caught, lightly breaded lake perch. Indescribably good.

My father's favorite Saturday lunch sandwich was baked beans and a slice of raw onion on rye toast. I laughed, smirked and ridiculed. Then I had one. Wonderful, especially witha cold beer.

My favorite is the classic hamburger. Top quality beef cooked over charcoal, a good brown-top bun, a slice of onion and some pickle slices. Done correctly (a rare event) a proper hamburger is the stuff of dreams.

Trooper - about the Earl of Sandwich -did't he also invent the club slice one evening whilst cavorting with two women and the chambermaid entered the room?

Suzie Nolen Bennett said...

> Blogger AllenS said...
> My all time favorite is the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. It don't get no better than a BLT.

As long as the tomato is in season, ripe from the vine.

When I rule the world, anyone serving a greenhouse tomato goes to the gallows, immediately.

Cedarford said...

Althouse Nothing should be falling out. I don't want to struggle with these slovenly concoctions anymore.

Weeeelll....that's one variety of sandwiches. Those dainty things like cucumber and egg salad sandwiches that may be eaten by ladies in white gloves and 400 buck business suits who don't want a seasoned meat gobbet spilling on their laps as they peruse the Bloomberg Report on their laptop.

But that is only a small subsection of the sandwich Family. Some of the best, by their nature, are inherently messy.
The Rueben. The open-face panani. The chilidog. Barbeque. Cuban shredded pork with molalo sauce. Au jus. Any decent hard=bread sandwich or grinder that will release a blizzard of bread crumbs as eaten.

My own peeve is sandwich designers that fail to recognize humans are not snakes. We don't have unhingable jaws. Anything thicker than 2 inches cannot be taken in one bite, comfortably, by most people.
Yet somehow we are supposed to be "IMPRESSED!!!" by a club, multi-bread layer, even burger with "trimmings" stacked 5"-6" high as some sort of tribute to the Gluttony Gods and the impossibility of eating it by other than nibbling, ratlike, on the sides?? Those are absurd creations that should have best ended when the lame cartoon character associated with them, Dagwood, was mercifully retired from comic pages.
Instead, we are in another era of fat Americans who want "the more stuffed, the more Dagwoodian, the better."

Chip Ahoy said...

The crumb of real bread.

The beauty of a simple sandwich.

Beth said...

I had a nice oyster po-boy, dressed, Friday afternoon. When you ask for a sandwich dressed, it means you want it the way it ought customarily to be served. In this case, that means lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles. My favorite po-boys are oyster, shrimp, and hot roast beef. Oh, and soft shell crab, when they're in season.

You can get fancy and find panneed rabbit or smoked duck po-boys, but I keep thinking they're contradictions in terms. The original po-boys were made with gravy and fried potatoes, for po' folks, for real.

The best po-boys in New Orleans are made with Leidenheimer bread, which is soft with a nice, sharp crust. Apparently, you need Germans for really good French bread (sandwich bread - I'm not talking about baguettes.) Leidenheimer is still made in stone ovens in a 19th century warehouse bakery downtown.

Banh Mi, the wonderful Vietnamese po-boys that Trooper referred to. are also a frequent favorite of mine -- Dong Phuong bakery makes the excellent, crusty little French pistolettes, and the individual restaurants make their meats. A good Banh Mi might have six or seven meats, from pate to terrine to meatballs to cured ham. Add cucumber slices, carrot shavings, onions, strips of jalepeno, bean sprouts, hoisin and Sriracha and wow, they're good. And cheap -- about $5.

Other than those two, put me down for PBJ, BLT and leftover turkey with dressing on the holidays.

vbspurs said...

When Prince Charles came to the US for his first official tour, he was partnered with Tricia Nixon (the press wanted to concoct a romance between the two), who said of him:

"You can tell he has very good manners. Eating American hamburgers is messy, and he did it neatly."

Unsurprisingly, given this level of interaction, romantic sparks didn't exactly fly.


Beth said...

And there's always alligator poboys, because it's better to eat than be eaten .

blake said...

Damn. It's 1AM here and I need a sandwich.

Actually, no, I just had my mom's spaghetti--she uses Sardi's recipe, and the only thing I've ever had that comes close was in Rome. (And it didn't come close, actually, it was just very, very good and not much like Sardi's.) So I'm stuffed.

As a good sandwich should be.

Actually, that's not true, either. A good sandwich can be quite precious, as well as a Dagwood architected feast.

I'm pleased to see people recognize the importance of the bread. It's astounding how a shop will spend the bucks on Boar's Head, but then place their sandwich on some sort of bread that makes Wonder's look good.

My favorite sub place is run by a woman who also runs the bakery that makes the bread. You need two hands and a shower if you take a sandwich dressed in the usual style. They also make the best pastrami and cheese-steak around.

Subway's and Quiznos are "fine" but they're not subs. They're also not cheaper than going to some mom & pop independent. And everything they make tastes the same.

But I'll stop here, I could go on for days.

The sandwich is the best thing since sliced bread. Which raises an interesting question.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

I drift back over here, only to find Ann with her rules now on sandwiches (so many rules: shorts, sandwiches, egg salad)... only to find Trooper with that long list of food that only reminds me of the hell I live in here in Phoenix, where not a decent deli can be easily found.

I remember my mom having a special fixation on liverwurst on white, with mayo on one side, mustard on the other, and she would always buy one after our long drive to church in Setauket from Queens. The deli was in Stony Brook and it was always one liverwurst and a slice of cheesecake.

Out here in Phoenix people flock to Subway, which has managed to dumb down what a true sub (or hoagie, or hero) should be. That soft nasty bread, fluffed with veggies, and the pre-cut semi bland meat. Where is the Boar's Head? The crusty Italian? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Gimme the number 10 on Trooper's list.

Ann Althouse said...

"That's what sticks in my mind, how he was using the only arm that he had to get to the top of that levee."

Wow. Devin Funck... too bad they couldn't reattach the arm they retrieved from inside the alligator.

Anyway, 2 things:

1. I think even relatively messy sandwiches like BBQ and Reubens can be constructed so stuff doesn't fall out. Just be neat and use the right size bread and the right proportions. The point of putting that meat in sandwich form is to make the sloppy ingredients neat.

2. White bread has its place and is part of many good sandwiches, including the traditional tea sandwiches, that make a big show of over-neatness and are fun to eat. When we stayed at the Savoy Hotel in London, we ordered high tea from room service. Do that and you won't bitch about white bread or "those dainty things like cucumber and egg salad sandwiches that may be eaten by ladies in white gloves." You'll just enjoy the fun. Even Wonder Bread has it's place. It's exactly what is called for in a Fluffernutter and really nice for a nostalgia-style PB&J.

blogging cockroach said...

i fail to see the problem with really sloppy messy sandwiches
especially if yummy bits fall out onto the floor
or in odd corners where you don't notice
i like wet sandwich ingredients
plus anything on troopers list yum
not to mention beth's po-boys esp that banh mi yum
but they do have to shed a little to be of any use to me

bearbee said...

Excellent 'skeletonizing the cow" thread.

re: homemade mayo, any concerns about raw eggs and salmonella?

This youtube-r who threatens to bring down the 'mayonnaise monopoly' with his recipe, dumps in the oil all at once BEFORE any blending takes place.

bill said...

re: homemade mayo, any concerns about raw eggs and salmonella?

Unless you're buying eggs on the side of the road no worries. If you still want to worry, most grocery stores are now selling pasteurized raw eggs.

Read this excellent Michael Ruhlman post on mayo. In the comments is :

Regarding the salmonella, I recall an episode of Good Eats in which Alton made mayo. After it was finished he put it in a jar and left it on the counter for a couple of hours.

His reason for this was two-fold: 1) Refrigeration will not kill the bacteria; it just prevents it from growing. 2) Lemon juice will kill the bacteria, and it does a better job killing the bacteria at room temperature than at refrigerated temps

Beth said...

Trooper, I'm keeping that list for our next trip north. Hope your mom doesn't mind unexpected guests!

Anne, as you can imagine, there are daily updates on young Devin's story, but I linked to that one for just the line you quote. What a brave little guy! And before surgery, he apologized to his mom for playing in the pond, saying he knows alligators are dangerous.

The Segway inventor is working on making prosthetics cheap and impressively adaptable. I hope Devin benefits from his efforts.

John Burgess said...

Yes! and No!

I want to eat a sandwich, not wear it or have it run down my arm. Thus, I'll pass on tomatoes and a superabundance of condiments.

But liverwurst (and its cousins) is actually close to the food of the gods. A strong mustard and raw sliced onions make it as close to ambrosia as any food can be.

I'm happy that there's a real German deli/market not too far from me. While their selection of only 40-or-so types of cold meats represents a bare minimum of what's available, it beats the pants off of any supermarket competition. The Italian delis are fine, too. Pity there's no Spanish or Portuguese deli in the area, though...

One pet peeve: What's with all the sweet business? It now seems that half the mustards and other condiments are far sweeter than a) they were and b) they need be. From mayonnaise to salad dressings, corn sweeteners seem to lead the list of ingredients.

For that matter, much of the food now available--from supermarkets to restaurants--is playing up sweetness. Even corn on the cob has become a saccharine overload.

Trooper York said...
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shake-and-bake said...

Mr. Bartholemew (Walter Matthau): Will you have a sandwich, Mrs. Lampert? We have liverwurst, liverwurst, chicken, and liverwurst.

Or something like that.

Nichevo said...

Cedarford said...

Althouse Nothing should be falling out. I don't want to struggle with these slovenly concoctions anymore.

Weeeelll....that's one variety of sandwiches. Those dainty things like cucumber and egg salad sandwiches that may be eaten by ladies in white gloves and 400 buck business suits who don't want a seasoned meat gobbet spilling on their laps as they peruse the Bloomberg Report on their laptop.

But that is only a small subsection of the sandwich Family. Some of the best, by their nature, are inherently messy.

Stop acting human, you monster! What, you went back on the Prozac?

Nichevo said...


Gyros on pita with Tzatziki has got to be the single most brilliant sandwich ever invented. All contained in a tidy pocket bread disk.

if your gyro is neat you ain't doing it right. Go to Fontana's Famous on Francis Lewis Blvd & Northern Blvd in Queens and then get back to me. That's a sammich you have to eat unwrapping a bite at a time. Yum!

Sorriso's veal parmesan hero in Astoria...

Ba Xuyen's banh mi in Sunset Park...

Burgers at Dumont Burger, Paul's on 2nd Ave in the Village, even Peter Luger's has a burger special for lunch (not on Sundays) that are to die for...

Pastrami at Katz's, to be sure, but try it on club bread. Stand at the counter and slip a buck into the cutter's tip cup for their kids' college funds - though I am not sure bribery works better than just ordering, it can't hurt. They give samples upon request, anyway.

First cut, second cut? (Second cut, or just ask for "fatty," e.g. "fatty pastrami on club." Trust me. Or be on a diet and pay more for lean/extra-lean [sob])

Pastrami, corned beef, brisket? Or if you're a little short, a stukel (just a hunk of knoblewurst and a couple slices rye) is...mmm...
garlicky... mustard... sauerkraut... haven't even gotten into hard salami... do franks count? Specials?

//stop me before I drool again
//too late
//Ann, I declare this thread an attractive nuisance

Ahem. Blake, I must inform you that this woman does not have the best pastrami. It is unpossible. She is not Katz's. It may be the best pastrami ever made by a goyische housewife.

...Ann, part of the sandwich magic is not just the one-handed feature. There is a curious alchemy between meat and bread that nothing else can satisfy in quite the same way, not even steak and French fries or roast pork over rice. Any sandwich can be made well or poorly.

I should also tell you that hygiene standards were not the same. A bit of juice or unctuous gobbet rolling down milord's wrist or waistcoat was probably no big deal. He only needed one hand. (Have you read of the table manners of Samuel Johnson? Not while eating, I hope. Archy? Back me up, there's a good chap.)

Now, as to mayo. Yes, it is quite a little miracle to make your own. Damn that stuff is thick! I went yolk-mad but you can stretch your eggs with quite a hell of a lot of oil.

I went with lemon juice - I might try vinegar next time +/or. I was unhappy with the spoonful of Dijon country mustard I used - think next would go for some bold deli mustard or else just a sprinkling of Colman's mustard powder.

Was reading that the Japanese mayo e.g. "Kewpie" brand uses MSG and sugar to taste so yummy. You know it ain't right but it is good on a spider roll.